Dermal Harvest is the horror-drenched debut from Swedish extreme metal outfit Skineater. Though the band was together as early as 2008, it wasn’t until 2011 that they began to seriously court label interest, play live and record demos. They often market themselves as a supergroup of the extreme metal underground, as their members include guitarist and founder Håkan Stuvemark (ex – Wombbath, ex – In Thy Dreams, ex – Vicious), guitarist Kari Kainulainan (ex-Mourning Sign, ex-Amaran), drummer Matte Modin (Raised Fist, ex – Dark Funeral), bassist and backing vocalist Stefan Westerberg (ex-Carnal Forge, ex – In Thy Dreams) and vocalist Jörgen Ström (The Mary Major).
The death metal band hang a great deal of their aesthetic on specific cluster of images and metaphors: namely, flaying. Yep, Skineater sure love taking the skin off of things. Their cover art, by Mathias Björkbacka, unsurprisingly, features a tortured figure in the process of having his skin removed by a hellish configuration or hooks and wires. Their song titles include “Dismantling” and “A Thousand Dead Faces.” Then, of course, there is their band name and album title.
This vast extended metaphor also hints at what they are hoping to get across in their music: Skineater play old-school Swedish death metal with a scabby patina of gore grind. Album opener “He Was Murdered” arrived with all the subtlety of a curette, snarling aggression powering a surprisingly melodic lead. For all their brutal power and scalpel edges, Skineater weave strong melodic threads through many of their songs, ensuring the structures have as much backbone as raw muscle. These melodic tendencies are certainly not the centrepiece of their sound, but is deployed extremely intelligently throughout the record, lending a sense of grandiosity and dignity to tracks like “Made of Godsick.”
For all their passion for grotesquerie, Skineater are an extremely balanced band, and Dermal Harvest is a better record for it. For every moment of brute force and every lyric that revels in its own disgust, there is a sinuous guitar lead or an eloquent vocal delivery. The drumming is an intelligent as it is relentless, and the solo work displays glorious technical proficiency without descending into the tech-death pitfall of overindulgence. Skineater display a great deal of restraint, which only benefits the impact of the songs and proves their veteran status more than any press release ever could.
The production is clarion, and Dermal Harvest is mastered with an ear for both clarity and power. Each instrument is given guts and power, without any sacrifice of tone or subtlety. While classic Swedish death metal is a flooded genre, spilling over with bands who want to work within the genre with varying degrees of success, Skineater stand out for their sense of class and balance. Not what you might expect from a band that espouses the pleasures of rending flesh and flaying victims alive, but refreshing and welcome nonetheless.